What really struck me in Greece and has lingered in my mind since then is nationalism in Greece. Museums, art galleries, archaeological digs enable a country to create their narrative and create a unified sense of self, this seemed to be entirely lacking on the Peloponnese.
Greece’s modern sense of nationhood is rooted in the Ancient world, as the founders of Western Democracy, political thought, and theatre, just listing a couple. And each city still seemed to view itself in terms of independent city-states. There is no unified narrative among Greece’s cultural institutions, Each city we visited: Athens, Acro-Corinth, Nafplio, Mystras, Nafpaktos, Delphi, showed why their own history was superiour to their neighbour. Reading plaques on the history of the wars with Persia was what initially had me intrigued. Athens museums showcased that city as being the key to defeating the Persians and has little mention of allies. Acro-Corinth did the same thing, barely mentioning other city-states contribution to defending Greece. I saw this time and again on the trip.
On our trip we met up with a Greek professor and over coffee I asked her a little bit about how Greeks view themselves. Dr. E told me how in Athens few people actually identified themselves as Athenian. She explained how Greece had rapidly urbanised, but the connection to the home village was still strong. She herself had grown up in Athens, but saw herself as from her families ancestral home in the Peloponnese.
I wonder whether some of the modern disconnected narratives of Greece are rooted in the fact that city-states were independent actors. If a country is using that kind of myth as its base identity does it not invite fraction? When Greece revolted it was the first time an independent Greek state had existed for two thousand years (the Byzantine and Latin Empires were arguably not Greek but Frankish, Italian, and Roman). Oh to go back in time and find out whether Greeks in the 19th century viewed themselves as those ancient Greeks who gave us so much.
Part of my conundrum is that I am sitting in Canada, I am Canadian, and the idea of having a history that reaches back millennia is befuddling. Our history as a state goes back 150 years, with settlement occurring somewhere in the last 400 years. Presently on Vancouver Island a fringe on the periphery of Canada was only considered for settlement in the mid 19th century. For most of Canada’s history our identity was as a part of the British Empire and this continued on after Confederation. The massive settlement of the Prairies at the start of the 20th century as well as the gold rushes in British Columbia took all the energy of the government, there was little concern with nationalism.
Often we attribute Canadian nationhood to the Great War and the Canadian Corps, baptism of fire and all that. But even then I wonder whether this is a modern myth that didn’t take root until the 20’s or 30’s. What makes us Canadian is hard to say but it is a growing concept.
Greece on the other might have too much to work with, or maybe being occupied by various kingdoms and people washed away unity, and like Canada is struggling to find a modern sense of self.